Trent Murphy and his Stanford teammates walked off the field at Oregon State on Oct. 26 with a variety of emotions. They were happy they'd won, but their 20-12 victory was not terribly impressive, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Further, disappointed Beavers fans quickly reminded them of the bigger birds that lay ahead.
Murphy, who is battling UCLA's Anthony Barr for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, really didn't need to be reminded. As soon as the clock hit zero, his mind switched focus to the game upon which the Cardinal's season will be measured: Oregon.
"It was almost immediate for me walking off the field," he said. "Even the Oregon State fans as we walked off the field were going, 'OK, well at least go beat the Ducks.' You couldn't help but go right to that."
The same could be said for Stanford coach David Shaw, only his mind turned to what it was going to take to beat the unbeaten, No. 3 Ducks. He didn't see it on the field of Reser Stadium.
"Coach Shaw got on us after the game a little bit, saying that effort, making mistakes, won't be good enough to beat a team like Oregon," Murphy recalled. "We didn't have too much room for excitement after that game playing the way we did."
Monday afternoon, after a bye week to cogitate over the matter -- Stanford players do not merely think, they cogitate -- Murphy tweeted his thoughts on the Thursday night matchup: "Oregon is a good football team. But this week game plan is simple -- Hard Work, Trust, Discipline, and one mean S.O.B. attitude."
That about sums it up. It sums up the way Stanford approached the 2012 game, a shocking 17-14 overtime victory in Autzen Stadium that would be the Ducks’ only defeat. And it sums up Murphy.
Murphy, an AP third-team All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2012, leads the Pac-12 in sacks (9.5) and tackles for a loss (13.5). He also has six quarterback hurries, an interception returned 30 yards for a touchdown and a blocked kick.
The 6-foot-6, 261-pound senior is playing his way into the first round of the NFL draft this spring. Mel Kiper ranks Murphy 25th on his big board, noting, "Murphy has shown me a little more quickness this year and I think it translates into a potential Round 1 selection. He can play standing up or with his hand on the ground, and can attack defenders with his eyes up, so he doesn't lose run leverage and will knock down passes. One of the country's top sack artists this season."
Shaw has several years of NFL coaching experience and he's fielded plenty of calls from former colleagues about Murphy.
"They are intrigued by his versatility," Shaw said. "Some of them are looking at him as a guy who can play open defensive end. Some of them look at him as a strong-side base end on the outside shoulder of a tackle. And some of them look at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, like what we are doing, strong side or week side."
But first things first: Oregon.
The No.5 Cardinal are a 10 1/2-point underdog at home. The general feeling is the Ducks are looking for some style points against a highly rated foe in order to keep Florida State at bay in the BCS standings. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who played his only poor game last year against the Cardinal, also could cement his status as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Hardscrabble Stanford isn't adverse to dipping into the "disrespect" reservoir for a motivational angle when facing their flashy North Division rivals. After all, it worked last year when the Cardinal were a three-touchdown underdog.
"It's not a strange position for us to be in, having people betting against us," Murphy said. "We feel more comfortable when everyone writes us off."
Murphy almost certainly will play a key role if the Cardinal are going to duplicate last year's surprising result. Last year, he had two sacks against the Ducks, leading an inspired defensive effort.
Stanford even forced Mariota to throw an interception. That's notable because he hasn't tossed one since then, as he's set a new Pac-12 record with 293 passes without an interception. Mariota had a 77-yard run last year, but even that became more notable as a positive for Stanford, which caught him from behind and then held the Ducks on fourth down.
Of course, Mariota is a much more refined, mature player as a second-year starter. The Ducks passing game is significantly better, too. Mariota passed for 206 yards per game in 2012. This year, it's 285 yards per game.
"You have to respect Mariota and his ability to make plays," Murphy said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. It's typical Oregon. They have great athletes who can make big plays. They will crease you. The thing is you've got to limit the big plays and tackle the football."
Shortly before last year's game, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason cryptically referenced "deep water" to the Pac-12 blog, which had no earthly idea what he was talking about. After the game, he clarified.
Deep water is the screws tightening in a high-stakes game late in the fourth quarter. Stanford is accustomed to deep water. It is willing to be uncomfortable because it believes its opponent is more so. Deep water is something Oregon rarely encounters, mostly because it blows opponents out.
Of course, part of that is Ducks swim well. Washington and UCLA got the Ducks into a close fourth quarter this year, trailing by just a single touchdown. They ended up losing by 21 and 28 points, respectively.
Still, deep water is where Stanford thinks it has an advantage.
"Deep water is always the plan," Murphy said. "We feel comfortable in close games, dragging our opponent into deep water in the fourth quarter. If we can get into that position again, we're in a good place."
Then maybe that "mean S.O.B. attitude" can take over and again stun the nation.